Life in Christ and in the World

Colossians 2:6-8

16 February 2014

Woodley Baptist Church

Reflective service


So, we've got just a couple of sentences to get stuck into this morning. But these verses are important in the structure of the letter to the Colossians because they form a bridge.

Now, there are a few bridges around these days that have both their ends underwater, thus becoming a bit useless. But normally bridges connect two landmasses, and they are very useful. We miss them when they are not available.

So it is with this bridge: it connects the two great halves of the letter to the Colossians.

The first half is the part we've already looked at, up to chapter 2 verse 5. And in this part Paul simply shares with us his awe-inspiring vision and experience of Christ. It's pure teaching; there's not a word of command or application in it.

The very first command in the letter comes in our passage today, and then they follow thick and fast right through to chapter four.

This is the way Paul always structures his writing, isn't it: theory first and then practice; always theology before application. So, for example, in his letter to the Romans we have eleven chapters of beautifully crafted doctrinal teaching before he gets to the first bit we would consider at all practical. When he does get down to the application, however, he really goes for it: but it's all built on and arising out of the theological foundation he has already built.

So, in the first part of Colossians, Paul has painted an astonishing picture of the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things—the whole creation; the spiritual realm; the physical universe from end to end including time itself; the church; even life and death—and yet himself living as a man and dying as a criminal in order to mend our broken relationship with God.

Paul has unpacked all of this, and in the second half of the letter he is going to apply it to the somewhat confused Colossian church. And he does so without pulling any punches.

So our text today is a bridge between the two parts: he begins applying these truths to the church and then he lays out the themes to come.

I want to look at this bridge under two main headings: verses 6 and 7, Receiving Christ, and verse 8, Resisting Captivity.

Receiving Christ

First, receiving Christ. Verse 6, So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in himref.

The Colossians had received Christ Jesus as Lord. We heard about it back in chapter 1 verse 6: they had heard and understood God's grace in all its truthref. They had heard the good news about Jesus from Epaphras and responded in faith. They had recognised that Jesus is Lord over all things, and had each made him Lord in their own lives.

So they'd made a good beginning: no false start here.

But Paul urges them not to stay standing at the starting line: they need to take the next step, and then the one after that, and the one after that, until they finally finish the journey. They need to continue to live in him.

He's already prayed this for them in Chapter 1 verse 10, that they might live a life worthy of the Lordref. More literally, it says that they might "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord". And this is the same language as our verse, which in a more literal translation says, "as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him".

The point is that the Christian life is a journey. It is never a case of "I prayed a prayer, and now I'm saved no matter what" . We need to make a good start, but we need to make it to the end as well. [Unlike the 18 competitors who failed to finish yesterday's Super Giant Slalom event.] Paul has already warned of the dangers of not finishing in Chapter 1 verse 23: you will only finally stand in God's presence, quote, if you continue in your faithref.

The point is that, if Jesus ceases to be your Lord, then he never truly was your Lord. Lordship is for life.

That's why I called this section Receiving Christ—it's not something we do once and forget about. We need to carry on receiving Christ Jesus as Lord continuously, again and again and again.

So Paul gives us three quick pictures of what it means to keep on receiving Christ Jesus as Lord: walking in him, being rooted in him and being built up in him.

I've already mentioned that the phrase continue to live in him is better translated walk in him. What does it mean to walk "in Christ"? Well it means we're on a journey. A journey guided by Jesus; a journey whose goal is Jesus; a journey on which we are accompanied by Jesus; a journey during which we become like Jesus. He is before us and beside us and behind us. He is the sunlight by day; the moonlight by night. He is the coat on our backs; the path beneath our feet. He is the food to sustain us, the water to refresh us, the guide to protect us. We walk in Jesus as a fish swims in the sea; as a bird flies in the air. We are immersed in him. Every step of the way we receive him as Lord; every day we pick up our cross, deny ourselves and set out once again to follow him.

If you think I'm overdoing it a bit, then please re-read chapter 1 verse 15 onwards. There is nothing in the universe more magnificent, more absorbing than Jesus Christ. We walk in him.

The second picture Paul gives us is being rooted in him. Yes, I know, rootedness and walking don't really go together, but bear with me here!

Although we normally can't see a tree's roots, it's easy to see the value of having good roots at the moment, isn't it? Unfortunately, my favourite tree in the garden has keeled over, taking part of the greenhouse out in the process. And I was delayed by two hours on the train on Friday night due to trees on the line. But most trees have weathered these storms, and will survive many more, because they have good roots. Roots that have grown to support the structure above: they haven't stayed the same puny size as when the tree was planted, they've deepened and thickened and lengthened.

And we are to be increasingly rooted in the Lord Jesus. This is our private commitment to him; nobody else can measure our roots, but everyone will know if they're there or not when the storm comes.

Thirdly, we are to be built up in him. I think this is a collective building up. The church together is built up in Christ. The church's visible life together—it's worship, it's love, its acts of service are all to grow in Christ-centredness. Sustained and shaped by him.

How do we do all this? How do we continue to walk in Jesus, remain rooted in Jesus and get built up together in Jesus?

Well, it all comes back to something I mentioned earlier. It all comes back to teaching. Verse 7, we are to be strengthened in the faith as [we] were taughtref. It is the teaching of the Christian truth that enables us to live out the Christian life.

Notice that we are to be strengthened in the faith as you were taught, past-tense. It is the past-tense, original faith that we received that we are to continue in. There is no new truth to be taught, only the old-old truth to be reviewed again and again. This is really important in the context of the Colossians' situation: they were in danger of being led-astray by new ideas and teaching; but Paul always calls them back to the original gospel they were taught.

So, if we want to be able to continue in Christ, to be rooted in Christ and to be built up in Christ, then we need to beg our leaders to teach the Bible to us. Beg your small group leaders for more Bible studies; beg those of us up front for more Bible preaching; get the children to beg their leaders for more Bible teaching. And let's bear this in mind as we seek to appoint a youth and children's worker.

And, of course, we need to teach ourselves. Here's a quote from a commentary on the book of Hebrews I read recently.

Many people casually drift into a low standard of Christian life simply because they minimise the importance of Christian instruction and disciplined Bible study. Quite possibly on most days they quietly ponder a few verses and say a quick prayer, but it does not occur to them that this is not nearly enough. Somehow or other, however busy he or she may be, every Christian needs to find a regular opportunity for serious study of the Bible.

What, then, is the result of all this? What, ultimately, does true life in Christ look like?

Well, finally in verse 7, it overflows with thankfulness.

The more we are rooted and reliant on Jesus, the more it will simply flow out of us as thankfulness. Thankful people are not proud, or negative, or complaining, or selfish, or rude. Thankful people are just lovely, aren't they? Thankful people are kind, generous, encouraging, joyful, humble. And a church filled with thankfulness is just lovely, isn't it? Thankfulness to Jesus; thankfulness to one another; an "attitude of gratitude" that pervades everything.

This, then, is the measure of how closely we are walking in Jesus; how we deeply we are rooted in him; how well we are being built up in him—how is our thankfulness?

Resisting Captivity

So that was Receiving Christ. Now, more briefly, let's look at verse 8, which I've called Resisting Captivity.

If verses 6 and 7 largely look back to the first half of the letter, then verse 8 largely looks forward to what is to come, and so we have our bridge.

See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.ref

In this verse, Paul warns the Colossians, "don't be taken captive!". Don't let yourselves be led astray in your walk so that you are no longer walking in Christ. Don't let yourselves be uprooted from Christ and carried away elsewhere. The allusion here is to the exile of the Jewish people in the Old Testament. Because they lost sight of faithfulness to God, God caused the Israelites to be taken captive by the Babylonians. They were uprooted from their home in Jerusalem and the Promised Land and carried away into exile for seventy years. Most of those taken never returned. "Don't let this happen to you!" Paul says.

In verse 8 he warns us against the basic principles of this world, or your translation might read "the elemental spiritual forces of this world", or "the elemental spirits of the world". It is a difficult word to translate; it appears again in verse 20.

But the point is that there is an enemy: forces at work which would want to rip us away from Jesus. Our sinful nature, the world and the devil all work together to try to prevent us continuing in Jesus. Walking in Christ is not automatic: it is a constant, conscious activity.

The church is always in danger of being captured by deceptive philosophy. Now, Paul doesn't mean "philosophy" in the sense we use it today, he just means ideas in general. And these ideas often look good: they are deceptive! They sound plausible, they sound like they can help us; they make a lot of sense. But in the end they come not from God, but from human tradition, and they are empty. They do not come from the Word, they come from the world. Do not be taken captive by them!

In rest of the letter, Paul will go on to explore some of these ideas as they apply to the Colossian church. So in the rest of this chapter he goes on to talk about the falseness of religion: special days; special rules; special ceremonies; special knowledge. This all appeals to us and it looks good! But it is deceptive, verse 17: these are just a shadow; they are not real. The only reality is found in Christ.

In chapter 3, he urges them to look at their behaviour. Not to live as they used to live before making Jesus their Lord. Chapter 3 verse 7, You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once livedref. But as we have seen, we are now to walk in Christ Jesus. Chapter 3 verse 15, Let the peace of Christ rule in your heartsref; verse 16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richlyref.

Anyway, I don't want to steal anyone else's sermon. But there's our bridge, verses 6 to 8. Both ends planted firmly in glorious truths: on the one side receiving Christ—walking in him, rooted in him, built up in him by his word and overflowing with thankfulness—on the other resisting capture—always alert to the things that would seek to uproot us.

Let's make sure that as individuals and as a church we continue to build great roots so that when the storms come and the rain falls and the winds blow, we still remain completely and utterly rooted in Jesus.